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Young offender unit opens in Billerica

Globe file
The Boston Globe
Young offenders have a higher rate of returning to jail than older inmates.

The Middlesex sheriff’s office has begun an initiative designed to reduce recidivism among young adult offenders at the Middlesex Jail & House of Correction in Billerica.

Young adults make up 28 percent of the jail population nationally, according to the sheriff’s office. In Massachusetts, a review by the Council of State Governments Justice Center found 18-to 24-year-olds have higher recidivism rates than older offenders. For 2016, 52 percent released from houses of correction in that age group and 56 percent of those released by the Department of Correction in the state were reincarcerated within three years.

“We are reimagining corrections,” said Middlesex Sheriff Peter Koutoujian. “We are pursuing a better, more effective approach to the way we deal with the individuals in this critical population with a goal of not just reducing recidivism, but setting these individuals on a path to a more successful and fulfilling life.”

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The young offender unit is a collaboration between Koutoujian and the Vera Institute of Justice, a nonprofit research and policy organization based in New York.

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The program will transform “the current correctional culture away from punishment and isolation, and toward equity, accountability, restoration, and healing,” said Alexandra Frank, senior program associate at Vera.

The program, which is being called PACT (People Achieving Change Together), also will include education, job training, and counseling services.

The first group of participants moved in on Feb. 5, with a second group expected to move in later this month.

Linda Greenstein can be reached at greensteinlm@gmail.com.